This week’s episode of Outlander was the best of the season, with a return to form and a heartbreaking, but inevitable, conclusion.
The season of Outlander has been converging toward a battle between Tryon’s militia and the Regulators, finally culminating in the Battle at Allamance in this week’s episode. But before the fighting can begin, the sweethearts must say goodbye, beginning with one last family moment between Roger, Bree, and Jemmy.
Turns out, it’s also the morning of Jamie’s birthday. (We’re supposed to believe Sam Heughan is 50?! Okay….) This conceit allows for a cute scene between Claire and Jamie and a Marilyn-inspired performance of the “Birthday Song.”
Of course, there’s never much downtime on Outlander. Soon enough, Governor Tryon receives a letter from the Regulators offering peace and surrender in exchange for their demands. However, Tryon’s ego is too much for him to even consider not going to battle.
Meanwhile, Bree learns that the men are stationed at Alamance and remembers her history lessons and rushes to go warn Roger and her parents that they’re bound to defeat the Regulators and lead to the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
Outlander hasn’t quite found a role for Brianna yet. She mostly seems to be reacting to Roger and her parents, and surviving as a victim of Stephen Bonnet. But I loved that, in this episode, she mirrored Claire’s role in the early storyline of Outlander by warning the soldiers of the outcome of the battle.
Once they receive the news, Roger volunteers to take the message to Murtagh as he’s the only one who can safely go who Murtagh will trust. Honestly, it’s nice to see Roger do something other than whine and sing.
(Roger didn’t start out so incompetent and miserable. Hopefully, there’s a chance to turn this ship around and save his character.)
Roger safely makes it to the Regulator camp and pulls Murtagh aside to warn him that, no matter what, they’ll lose. He pleads with Murtagh to retreat, saying that in a few years, they’ll all be fighting on the same side. (Indeed, in about four.)
This means that Jamie, Claire, and Bree have to prepare for the fight. For Jamie, this involves sexily bathing in the river and performing an ancient Scottish blood ritual/prayer to call upon the spirit of his dead uncle Dougal MacKenzie to help him in battle.
This leads to a surprising, but great, cameo from Dougal’s former portrayer, Graham McTavish. On Roger’s way back to Bree and the militia, he runs into Morag MacKenzie, his ancestor and the woman he helped on his way over to America on Stephen Bonnet’s boat.
He gives her a hug, only to be accused of untoward behavior by her husband, Buck, Dougal and Geillis’s son (McTavish in a very hairy getup). It’s a fun cameo and callback, and also a good reminder that Roger, for all of his book smarts, can’t seem to figure out how to survive in the past, as he soon finds himself surrounded.
But Tryon and the Redcoats are hungry for blood, and Jamie is right there with them. As they steel for battle, Tryon gives Jamie a uniform to wear, and it sets off the beginning of some incredible acting from Sam Heughan in the second half of the episode as he contemplates a way to resist the Crown.
And then the battle is on. It’s a well-directed sequence and an impressive set-piece. Once again, it doesn’t have quite the same pull and weight as earlier seasons of Outlander. This battle, in particular, can’t help but be compared to the visceral violence of Culloden.
And the fight between Black Jack Randall and Jamie had been built up much more and was far more satisfying and vindicating than one between Jamie and Murtagh which evokes polar opposite emotions.
We wanted to see Jamie kill Black Jack Randall. Now, Jamie is on the wrong side, and we’re still trying to root for him. We’ve known he and Murtagh will have to face off at some point, but it’s not a moment any viewer is looking forward to, and we want Jamie to smart his way out of it somehow.
That’s why Murtagh’s death, as heartbreaking as it was, felt entirely expected. I want to clarify here that the acting was incredible. I think the writing of the specific scene itself was also well done. But it never feels good to watch a show and be unsurprised. As much as I didn’t want Murtagh to die, it wasn’t at all surprising that he did after last week’s goodbye to Jocasta and the season’s overarching conflict with Jamie.
The question is whether Outlander will be able to use his death for good. Things are trending positive after this episode, with Jamie finally remembering his principles, forgetting politics, and throwing the Redcoat on the ground with tears in his eyes after Murtagh dies.
But there’s little time to grieve (although Caitriona Balfe gives an incredible performance, too, as she strokes Murtagh’s cheeks and whispers “my friend”) when the battle ends and Bree realizes Roger is still missing and she discovers a body very similar to Roger’s hanging from a tree….
Were you surprised by Murtagh’s death during this week’s Outlander episode? Share your thoughts in the comments below!